Amazon this morning announced it’s teaming up with AT&T on a new feature that will allow some AT&T customers to make and receive phone calls through their Alexa-enabled devices, like an Amazon Echo smart speaker. Once enabled, customers with supported devices will be able to speak to the Alexa digital assistant to start a phone call or answer an incoming call, even if their phone is out of reach, turned off or out of battery.
The feature, “AT&T calling with Alexa,” has to first be set up under the user’s Alexa account.
To do so, users who want to enable the option will need to go to the “Communication” section in their Alexa app’s Settings. From there, you’ll select “AT&T” and then follow the on-screen instructions to link your mobile number.
Once linked, AT&T customers will be able to say things like “Alexa, call Jessica,” or “Alexa, dial XXX-XXX-XXXX” (where the Xes represent someone’s phone number).
When a call is coming in, Alexa will announce the call by saying, “Incoming call from James,” or whomever is ringing you. You can respond, “Alexa, answer,” to pick up, then speak to the caller via your Alexa device.
There are a few different ways to control when you want to receive incoming calls.
You can create an Alexa Routine that specifies you’ll only receive your calls through Alexa during workday hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., for example. You could also make a routine that allowed you to disable AT&T calls on your device when you said a trigger phrase, like “Alexa, I’m leaving home.” Plus, you can manually turn off the feature when you’re leaving the house by switching on the “Away Mode” setting in the Alexa app.
The new feature is made possible by AT&T’s NumberSync service that allows users to make and receive phone calls on smartwatches, tablets, computers and, now, Alexa devices. There’s no cost associated with using the feature, which is included with all eligible AT&T mobile plans.
Amazon says AT&T Calling with Alexa is available on post-paid plans for those customers who have a compatible HD-voice mobile phone, like an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy device, among many others.
While only AT&T customers in the U.S. can take advantage of the feature, they’re able to place outgoing calls to numbers across Mexico, Canada and the U.K., as well as the U.S.
Amazon declined to say if it plans to offer a similar feature to customers with other carriers, but says it will respond to user feedback to evolve the feature over time.
This is not the first feature designed to make Alexa devices a tool for communication.
Amazon has already tried to make its Alexa devices work like a cross between a home intercom and a phone. With features like Drop-In, users can check in on family members in other parts of the home. Or they could use Announcements to broadcast messages, like “Dinner’s ready!” Meanwhile, calling features like Alexa-to-Alexa Calling or Alexa Outbound Calling have allowed users to make free phone calls to both other Alexa users and most mobile and landline numbers in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Mexico through Alexa devices or the Alexa app.
However, these features didn’t support incoming calls or calls to emergency services, like 911, so they weren’t full phone replacements.
Arguably, it may also be hard to get users to change their habit of using their cell phone in favor of an Alexa device, given that many people tend to keep phones nearby at all times, even when at home.
By offering a way to tie an Alexa device to a real phone number, however, users may be more inclined to try calling through Alexa.
The feature could also benefit the elderly, who couldn’t get to their phone in time, in the event of an emergency, or those with other special needs or disabilities that make walking over to a cell phone to answer a call more difficult.
Unfortunately, there’s still a major roadblock to using this service: spam calls. So many calls today are unwanted robocalls and spam. Having them announced over Alexa could become more of an annoyance than a help, unless users already subscribe to an advanced call blocker service.
Amazon says the new feature is live today across the U.S.
We’re excited to announce a new partnership with Amazon Web Services for annual members of Extra Crunch. Starting today, qualified annual members can receive $ 1,000 in AWS credits. You also must be a startup founder to claim this Extra Crunch community perk.
AWS is the premier service for your application hosting needs, and we want to make sure our community is well-resourced to build. We understand that hosting and infrastructure costs can be a major hurdle for tech startups, and we’re hoping that this offer will help better support your team.
What’s included in the perk:
- $ 1,000 in AWS Promotional Credit valid for 1 year
- 2 months of AWS Business Support
- 80 credits for self-paced labs
Applications are processed in 7-10 days, once an application is received. Companies may not be eligible for AWS Promotional Credits if they previously received a similar or greater amount of credit. Companies may be eligible to be “topped up” to a higher credit amount if they previously received a lower credit.
In addition to the AWS community perk, Extra Crunch members also get access to how-tos and guides on company building, intelligence on what’s happening in the startup ecosystem, stories about founders and exits, transcripts from panels at TechCrunch events, discounts on TechCrunch events, no banner ads on TechCrunch.com and more. To see a full list of the types of articles you get with Extra Crunch, head here.
You can sign up for annual Extra Crunch membership here.
Once you are signed up, you’ll receive a welcome email with a link to the AWS offer. If you are already an annual Extra Crunch member, you will receive an email with the offer at some point today. If you are currently a monthly Extra Crunch subscriber and want to upgrade to annual in order to claim this deal, head over to the “my account” section on TechCrunch.com and click the “upgrade” button.
This is one of several new community perks we’ve been working on for Extra Crunch members. Extra Crunch members also get 20% off all TechCrunch event tickets (email firstname.lastname@example.org with the event name to receive a discount code for event tickets). You can learn more about our events lineup here. You also can read about our Brex community perk here.
Targeting a relevant audience is essential for PPC ads. Whether in the Search or Display Network, considerable time and attention is taken to ensure you are reaching an appropriate audience. A while back, Google introduced a new method to help determine uninterested viewers. In July 2012, Google ushered in a new tool to mute certain ads on the Display Network, using a small [x] in the upper right hand corner. This option allowed users to specify ads they no longer wished to see. No information was obtained, though, on why they wanted to hide these ads.
To remedy this, Google recently announced plans to take this concept to the next level. Throughout the coming weeks, Google will be transitioning the mute ad setup to include a three-question survey. The insights gained from these surveys will allow Google to better understand why users are opting out of certain ads.
What Ads this Affects
The news release from the AdWords blog mentions some of the Display ads will have this feature. Looking at information for the original tool, it appears that this feature is for Display Network ads that utilize either remarketing, or interest categories.
Why this Update Matters
Allowing people to specify why they no longer want to see the ads will give Google some potentially powerful insight. Google allows users to choose one of three categories for muting the ad:
- I don’t like the content.
- I’ve seen the ad too often.
- Ad is covering content.
Here’s a preview of the survey interface:
There is a distinct difference between these options, so Google no longer has to assume you aren’t interested in the content of the ad. Perhaps there is a formatting issue on the site, or with the ad, and it is blocking part of the page. If it is from a remarketing list, it’s possible the user has just seen that ad too often, but would still be interested in ads for similar products/services. Previously muting this ad would have caused Google to assume the person wasn’t interested in that category, or product.
Not liking the content is a bit broad, so Google takes that selection to the next level. A second part of the survey comes up if they select that generic reason for muting the ads. The user can then choose from three options.
- The ad is too distracting.
- They aren’t interested in the offer.
- It is a possible violation of Google ads.
When reported correctly, the last option could help Google find possible ad violations and clean up the Display Network ads.
What Does this Mean for You?
So what does this mean for advertisers? It remains unclear to what extent the data will be utilized. What is clear, though, is that the feature can potentially help advertisers get impressions from a more relevant audience. If uninterested users mute your ads, it will keep you from wasting time/money in showing the ads to them in the future. The purpose of remarketing and interest categories is to get more of a qualified audience. Understanding why someone would prefer not to be shown certain ads will help Google get more appropriate ads in front of them.
I could see this new feature being beneficial to both Google and the advertisers. The more insight Google has, the better ad experience they can provide for the users, which can only help the advertisers in turn. The key to the tool’s success, though, relies on people taking the time to give honest (and true) feedback. Excessive reporting of Google violations when they don’t exist, or people not participating in the survey, will hinder the success of this new feature.
As Google continues working on this tool, it will be interesting to see what powerful insights can be gained from the feedback.
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